Residential school survivors across Denendeh preparing for Pope’s visit

Martina Norwegian remembers the positive impact the 1987 Papal visit had in her community of Łiidlı̨ı̨ Kųé, Northwest Territories – and she’s hoping Indigenous communities will experience the same when Pope Francis arrives.

“I always feel like we have to walk parallel and that’s one of the things that my father always said is that  ‘you know, like a lot of times we don’t agree, but we still have to live together and we still have to walk parallel if we don’t agree, to try to understand,’” said Norwegian, a survivor of the Lapointe Hall and Bompas Hall schools.

She’s also a faith keeper – involved in the Sacred Heart Church since 1995 and steps in to deliver church services when the priests aren’t available.

Norwegian will travel to Alberta to see the Pope on this visit.

She’s part of a delegation of 40 people attending the visit and supported by the MacKenzie Fort Smith diocese.

Bishop Jon Hansen says the trip is one part of a very long journey.

“But I’m hoping that they’ll be more opportunities for reconciliation, and just as an example, this trip itself, organizing these delegates working with the other communities, this has been an amazing opportunity to, as I said before, it to meet new people, to discuss these issues and I can only see positive things coming from that,” he said.

The Dehcho First Nation, along with other Indigenous groups in Canada, have called for the Roman Catholic Church to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery – a policy issued by the Church in the 15th century that defines land unoccupied by Christians as available to be conquered.

“They are ancient documents part of our history, which is unfortunate. But they have no current bearing on how we work in the world,” said Hansen. “So if symbolically they need to be reputiated in a public statement, I’m all for that.”

Ernest Betsina is also a delegate and survivor who attended Grollier Hall in Inuvik, N.W.T.

“I’m pretty sure that the Pope will apologize, but it’s got to be authentic, it’s got to be genuine,” he said. “It’s got to be to the people and I’m hoping that the people would accept it.”

Before the Papal visit, Betsina will also attend the Dene National Special Assembly where communities will discuss ground penetrating radar in the search for unmarked graves on former school sites.

He hopes any Papal apology comes with compensation to survivors for healing services and the release of all records held by the Church.

“For the graves that have not been identified yet, I’m hoping that they would find the right records, that would find the right who’s buried and we want to know where they’re from the individuals, the family that their names,” he said. “So that way you basically, The spirits can rise up and disappears and whoever they may be the spirits will rest easy.”

Pope Francis will be on Treaty 6 land July 25 and 26.

APTN will follow the journey of many people to hear him speak throughout the week.

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